PGA Championship Writer's Notebook

Categories: Sports


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                                                                             Images courtesy of Keith Allison

The 91st PGA Championship gets brewing at Hazeltine National this week, marking the fifth time in history that golf's last major of the season - known as "glory's last shot" - has taken place in Minnesota.  I was out at the course yesterday for practice day #2 of the week and the track looks in pristine shape, the sand traps having well-recovered from last week's heavy rains.

Whether you're venturing out to the event yourself, or plan on watching on the telly, here's a PGA notebook to shape up your Championship swing for the week.

Course/History

Hazeltine will be playing to nearly 7,700 yards, making it the longest course in major golf history; the distance is more than 300 yards longer than when Rich Beem won the Championship in Chaska back in '02.  Just eight players finished below par seven years ago, a count that could no doubt be lessened come Sunday.  In recent months, course Superintendent Jim Nicol told me for a Tee Times MN story that:

"We charted the player's drives from '02, where they hit their balls  . . . We're bringing some of those bunkers back into play; toward the tee so the players can get to them now if a tee was brought back." 

Tiger

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If seeing Woods on the practice range Tuesday portends what the tournament will offer in the way of crowds: be ready, or be really tall.  Crazy.  Kids yelling, grown men weeping, his name continually mimicked and mirrored through a crowd like the call for "trips" at a Phish show - nuts. 

Imagine Paul McCartney giving Obama a piggy-back down the street with Springsteen strumming "Thunder Road" alongside.  That kind of insanity.

Woods is the well-deserved favorite at 3/2, and has won three of his last four tournaments.  He is 0-for-3 in the majors this year, however, which should only fuel his luminary drive to win.  While he didn't find victory here back in '02, he nearly caught Beem after birdying his final four holes, falling by a single shot.  Woods has won this event four times.

Prep for some Schlep

If you're going sans a VIP or media pass, just accept the fact that this deal is packed and involves some busing (from Canterbury Park), walking, waiting and sweating.  I might suggest that a way to expedite and thus improve your experience is to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the event, course, and grounds by clicking here.  That may save you 30-minutes of walking onto Hazeltine and saying, "Now where the hell should I go?"  In addition, may I suggest that you spend a significant portion of your day either following a favorite player or finding a juicy spot somewhere and staying put awhile - otherwise, you can spend your entire day walking amidst crowds with head on a dizzied swivel.

Dollars

Just a few costs I noted during the day:
Soda- $4.00
Beer- about $6.00
Hot Dog - $4.00
Water - $2.50
Wine - $8.00
Shirt - about $60.00
Ballcap - $23.00


Prediction

I'm eschewing Tiger and going with either Wisconsin-native Steve Stricker (33/1) or Justin

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Leonard (80/1).  As Hazeltine Head Pro Mike Schultz told me for an alternate Tee Times piece, regarding the importance of being patient with the course:

"Not trying to birdie every hole.  Just taking advantage of your spots when they come to you instead of trying to force things.  Otherwise, you'll end up with some double bogeys.  You're not going to get a lot of birdies, but in a major championship and out here you're not going to need a ton of birdies - you just have to minimize the mistakes.  Just biding time until birdie opportunities come your way."

Stricker, ranked 5th in the world, has won twice this year and seems primed for a major.  Leonard was the leader going into Sunday back in '02, and has righted his once-wayward ship with a solid 2009 season.  Americans have dominated this event and both of these guys are seasoned, both have enough length off the tee and solid mid-iron play, and both can really putt.  Plus, I hate picking favorites. . .


Have a great time out there, gentle readers.  If you see me, please buy me a gin. Lastly: for kicks, here's a fun, little amateur video I shot around the practice range and chipping green which has some footage of Lucas Glover, Davis Love III, Ian Poulter, Tiger Woods & Steve Stricker (from afar), and Bubba Watson.  Enjoy:



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